Google's recent decision to hit the pause button on its ambitious fiber deployment has raised a few eyebrows. Never one to shy away from a challenge, was this a project too far for the Internet giant? (See Google Fiber Hits Pause Button, Scales Back and Gigabites: Et Tu, Google Fiber?)
After spending time and money advertising the service, and getting customers excited about FTTH-based gigabit broadband and everything that brings, building out new access networks proved to be a time-consuming endeavor hampered by red tape and legal challenges from AT&T and others over pole provisioning. (See Gigabites: Google's Back on the Pole.)
Google Fiber Inc. has had limited success in the eight metro markets in which it has managed to deploy its services but after more than five years and just a small number of launches it's clear that the Internet giant's ultra-broadband service ambitions had not been met.
If anything, this serves to highlight the many barriers to entry by a new challenger, including: the financing of such projects -- it's an expensive business with many deployment, operational and bureaucratic hurdles; it's a time-consuming and painstaking business, with rules, regulations and processes often differing from market to market; the unwillingness of incumbent players to allow new entrants into any market without a tactical fight.
I don't think Google foresaw the severity of these issues, including AT&T's litigation against Nashville Electric Service for plans to speed up the pole provisioning process and "right of entry" challenges, after the impact it had early in its gigabit endeavors.
You could say that this is just business: What do the likes of AT&T and Comcast, with their much larger broadband delivery and support resources, really stand to lose if the playing field was leveled and the battle was for providing the best customer service experience?
It's easy to call Google Fiber a failure -- and AT&T hasn't held back in taking a dig at its rival -- but all in all it was willing to take a chance on delivering gigabit services to challenge and change the way business was done. And while it may have become frustrated at the time it was taking to get things done -- the ultra-broadband market still moves at telco pace, not web-scale speeds -- it will have learned a lot of valuable lessons.
And it has arguably been the catalyst that kickstarted many a gigabit broadband strategy, as well as providing insight and case studies for others wanting to throw their hat into the municipal fiber ring. Google Fiber's experience could lead to renewed scrutiny on the plans and actions of the incumbents that often seem reluctant to move forward, as well as provide inspiration for smaller communities that may otherwise miss out on the gigabit revolution.
This in turn could help spur process, regulatory and technology innovations and trials in next-generation deployment. There's a lot of talk around hybrid fixed/wireless networks and, as long as the backhaul capacity is sufficient and planned appropriately, this might be a way forward for competitive service providers.
And don't forget, Google has just pressed the pause button and is active in its high-speed wireless broadband activities, a reminder for the dominant players that it hasn't abandoned the broadband sector altogether. (See Google Fiber Now a Wireless ISP!)
— Elliot Richards, Senior Editor, UBB2020